In 1976, when Ernie Perich was a feckless youth, he and two buddies from college decided to travel to art fairs around Michigan selling “I Love America” T-shirts, tapping into the nation’s bicentennial celebration. More than 30 years later, Perich – now with the trappings of adulthood, including his own Ann Arbor ad agency and a bank directorship – is back in the T-shirt game.
Perich says that over the years he’s owned “every one of the fancy Ann Arbor German cars,” but about a year and a half ago he got a Cadillac CTS and loves it. He’s tired of hearing people dis the U.S. auto industry – plus, General Motors is one of his firm’s clients. He wanted a way to celebrate American cars and generate a little buzz, so he spent about $2,000 on T-shirts intended to do just that.
The T-shirts say ”I ♥ My (American Car)” with the last two words rendered in Japanese characters. The idea, Perich says, is to get people to wonder what the heck those Japanese words mean. A website address – IHaveChosen.com – is printed on the sleeve. On that site, you can upload photos of yourself with your car, or buy the T-shirt for $17.76 – get it?
Perich calls the venture a pet project, and says he’s not looking to make money. “It’s just kind of a feel-good thing,” he said.
And in fact, they’re not set up to do high volume at this point. He’s ordered only 200 shirts – printed locally at Ascott Corp. on North Main, on shirts bought from American Apparel. Those that they haven’t already given away or sold are stashed in a couple of cardboard boxes on the second floor of Perich Advertising + Design’s funky First Street offices.
When The Chronicle dropped by on Friday afternoon, Jeff Lutch – a production designer with the firm – showed us the design for a second T-shirt that’s in the works. This one broadens the theme from cars to anything made in America. The shirt reads “I ♥ My American-Made _______ ” and will come with a red marker to write in your product of choice.
Perich came up with the idea only a month or so ago, and he’s done virtually no marketing. He did send a T-shirt to WJR radio host Frank Beckmann, who recently interviewed Perich about the project. That spot generated more than 100 orders for the shirt, according to a post on the I Have Chosen Facebook page. Perich plans to ramp up publicity soon.
Perich says the impetus for this isn’t coming from his firm’s relationship with GM, though he says the automaker is an important client. His 25-employee agency works with several different GM divisions, including fleet, commercial and alternative fuel groups.
He grew up in Dearborn and says he cares about the fate of the domestic auto industry, and believes many others do, too. He hopes that creating an outlet to express that support will somehow make a difference.
“It’s important to us,” Perich said. “No bull.”